Cee-Lo is a gambling game played with three dice. The English name is apparently derived from the Chinese phrase 四五六 (‘four five six’; Mandarin: sì wǔ liù, Cantonese: si³ ng⁵ luk⁶, Hokkien: sì gō͘ la̍k), which is the highest roll in the game. Some books refer to it as “Strung Flowers”, another Chinese name for the highest roll;A[vol. 1, p. 145] others call it “Four Five Six”, “See Low”,B[p. 51] or simply the “Three-Dice Game”.C[p. 345]
In Gambling Games of Malaya (p. 96) the name is given as 六骰 (literally ‘six dice’), but with the odd pronunciation “Luk Kow” (the correct Hokkien pronunciation is la̍k tâu). Cee-Lo is also played with three, not six dice. It is possible that the name should be 六九 (Hokkien: la̍k káu, ‘six nine’); indeed, the game is referred to under the name “Luk Kow 69” in Brunei gambling law.E[p. 21] I don’t know to what part of the game “69” could refer, but one idea could be the roll – read as six–nine.
In Japan the game is called チンチロ(リン) chinchiro(rin), an onomatopœia based on the noise of dice being dropped into a bowl.It is also the noise made by the pine cricket (松虫 matsumushi). It is also played with differing payoffs for each dice outcome (see Chinchirorin below).
It is possible the game is derived from a Ming-era game called 鬭腰/鬥腰 (Mandarin: Dòu Yāo) ‘fighting for the purse’, where the way to make a ‘point’ was the same.H[p. 42] This game is described by Pān Zhīhéng in his work about dice games 六博譜 [Liùbó Pǔ], but I have not yet been able to translate this. At the very least the special throws and are mentioned in this work.
Three dice are required to play. Each time a roll is made, all three dice are rolled. In Chinese and Japanese play, it is usual for the dice to be tossed into a bowl. In the USA they are normally cast against a wall or other vertical surface.
A point is a result of a pair along with any other non-matching number, the non-pair number being the value of the point. For example, the roll would establish a point of .
The Banking Game
The traditional method of play is as follows.
One player at a time acts as the banker (莊, Cantonese: zong¹, Hokkien: chong, Mandarin: zhuāng).
The banker first puts up their stake. Each player in turn then has a chance to cover or fade the banker’s bet, by placing a stake equivalent to some portion of the banker’s bet. The stake that each player places is how much they stand to win or lose on this round. Once the banker’s bet is matched, or each player has had a turn to place a stake, the banker takes back any remaining uncovered bet, and begins the round. Players who did not place any stake will not play in this round.
The banker starts the round by rolling the dice: if they roll the special combination , any triple, or a point of , they win the round instantly, and collect their bet and all other player’s stakes.
If the banker rolls the special combination or a point of , they lose instantly, and each other player collects their stake and the equivalent amount from the banker’s bet.
If they roll any point other than or , that establishes the point value for the round that the other players must roll to beat.
Any other roll that is not one of the rolls mentioned above does not count and must be rerolled until one of the given rolls is made.
The following table summarizes the results for the banker:
Chinese NameJ[p. 493]
|Name in New York||Roll||Outcome|
Cantonese: si³ ng⁵ luk⁶
串花 ‘strung flowers’
Cantonese: cyun³ faa¹
|5 Point||Point of 5|
|4 Point||Point of 4|
|3 Point||Point of 3|
|2 Point||Point of 2|
|1 Point||一弗 ‘bad one’|
Cantonese: jat¹ fat¹
|1–2–3||舞龍 ‘dragon dance’|
Cantonese: mou⁵ lung⁴
蛇仔 ‘small snake’
Cantonese: se⁴ zai²
If the banker establishes a point of 2–5, each other player in turn rolls the dice until they roll a result that counts. If it is higher than the banker’s point, they win and take back their stake and a matching amount from the banker’s bet; if lower, they lose their stake. If they equal the banker’s point it is a push and the player takes back only their stake.
There are various methods for rotating the banker:
- If any player beats the banker with a triple or then they will become the banker for the next round.
- If any player beats the banker, then the bankership rotates for the next round.D[p. 96]
- If all players beat the banker, then the bankership rotates.
4, 5, 6 is in the mix, I’m hittin’ them with trips
Headcrack, time to get the bread, black!
Cee-Lo has been a part of hip-hop culture since the late 1980s. It is particularly associated with New York & East Coast hip-hop.West Coast hip-hop often references craps instead. A selection of tracks that reference the game follows:
- Rob Base & DJ Ez Rock (1988). “Joy and Pain” from It Takes Two: Profile Records.
- Apache (1991). “Make Money” from Apache Ain’t Shit: Tommy Boy/Warner Bros. Records.
- A Tribe Called Quest (1991). “Vibes and Stuff” from The Low End Theory: Jive Records.
- Showbiz & A.G. (1992). “More Than One Way Out of the Ghetto” from Runaway Slave: Payday/London Records.
- Nas (1994). “N.Y. State of Mind” from Illmatic: Columbia Records.
- The Notorious B.I.G. (1994). “Me and My Bitch” from Ready to Die: Bad Boy Records and Arista Records.
- Kurious (1994). “Uptown Shit” from A Constipated Monkey: Hoppoh Recordings/Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment.
- Naughty by Nature (1995). “City of Ci-Lo” from Poverty’s Paradise: Tommy Boy Records.
- Kool G Rap (1995). “4,5,6” from 4,5,6: Cold Chillin’ Records.
- Jay-Z (1997). “Where I’m From” from In My Lifetime, Vol.1: Roc-A-Fella & Def Jam.
- La the Darkman (1998). “Lucci” from Heist of the Century: Supreme Team.
- Keith Murray (1999). “Danger” from The Most Beautifullest Thing in This World: Jive Records.
- Lost Boyz (1999). “Cheese” from LB IV Life: Uptown Records.
- Rakim (1999). “Flow Forever” from The Master: Universal Records.
- Trina (2000). “Ain’t Shit” from Da Baddest Bitch: Atlantic/Slip-N-Slide Records.
- Big L (2000). “Casualties of a Dice Game” from The Big Picture: Rawkus Records.
- Ghostface Killah (2001). “The Juks” from Bulletproof Wallets: Epic Records & SME Records.
- Bobby Digital, U-God, Inspectah Deck, & Suga Bang Bang (2002). “Killa Beez” from The Sting: Koch Records.
- Ludacris & DMX (2004). “Put Your Money” from The Red Light District: Disturbing tha Peace & Def Jam.
- Jay-Z (2009). “Empire State of Mind” from The Blueprint 3: Roc Nation.
- Blacastan (2010). “The Dice Life” from Blac Sabbath: Brick Records.
- Azealia Banks (2012). “Nathan” from Fantasea: self-released.
- Casper TNG (2015). "Dope Boy” (single).
- TallupTwinz (2017). “456” (single).
- Young M.A. (2019). “Da Come Up” from Herstory in the Making: M.A Music/3D.
The Japanese version of the game is played with a banker, but the payoff depends on the roll; players can win or lose up to 3× the amount they staked. The ranking of some rolls also differs from Cee-Lo (e.g. loses).
Each player has three attempts to “make” their roll by achieving one of the specified outcomes. If they fail then they bust and lose their stake. A player also busts instantly if any of their dice escape the bowl — this is called ‘pissing’ (小便 shōben, also used to describe the breaking of a contract).
An triplet is called a ‘storm’ (嵐 arashi).Apparently this term comes from the game Oicho-Kabu.
|Triple 2–6||アラシ arashi ‘storm’||win 3×|
|4–5–6||シゴロ shigoro ‘four five six’||win 2×|
|Point 6||六の目 roppou no me ‘eye of 6’||win 1×|
|Points 2–5||目 me ‘eye’||1×|
|Point 1||一の目 pin no me ‘eye of 1’||lose 1×|
|Bust||目なし me no nai ‘no eye’||lose 1×|
|1–2–3||ヒフミ hifumi ‘one two three’||lose 2×|
|Triple 1||ピンゾロ pinzoro ‘triple ace’||lose 3×|
The game is featured in many titles of the Suikoden series.
This version of the game is played in Kaiji: Against All Rules (2011). The payoffs are again different, with becoming the highest roll.
There are also variations to the main rules:
- The banker has no automatic wins; the players always have a chance to equal or beat their roll. Whoever has the higher roll wins the amount according to their ‘outcome’ in the table below.
- Each player is banker for two rounds. If on their first round the banker rolls a , busts, or rolls a then they pass on the bankership after the first round. A player can also pass on the bankership instead of taking it.
|Triple 1||win 5×|
|Triple 2–6||win 3×|
Scarne, John (). Scarne on Dice (8th edition). Melvin Powers Wilshire Book Co.: Hollywood, CA, USA. ISBN: 0-517-54124-6.
Dobree, C. T. (). Gambling Games of Malaya. The Caxton Press: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Anonymous (). ‘Chapter 28: Common Gaming Houses’. In Laws of Brunei: Revised Edition 2019.
Li, En (). Betting on Empire: A Socio-Cultural History of Gambling in Late-Qing China. PhD thesis, Washington University: St. Louis, MO, USA.